First of all, I apologize for this picture. Something was wrong with my camera settings, which is why this picture looks grainy and dark and gloomy, so very unlike the soup that's in it - which was a glowing vibrant orange-red, and we ate it on a sunny summer evening on our balcony. But it tasted so good, so great actually, that I'm posting the picture and the recipe anyway.
I make a lot of soups, many of them by simply following the 'throw a bunch of stuff in a pot, add water or stock, cook and puree' method. They often turn out good, sometimes great, and sometimes truly wonderful. Yesterday was that kind of soup.. when we were eating it I was already thinking of excuses to make it again, soon.
It was already a great soup after I pureed it, but it was adding the fennel seeds that lifted everything to new heights. They give the soup a complex, very intriguing flavor, so don't skip that step!
I invented the topping because I can't bear a creamy pureed soup without something crunchy to act as a textural contrast. Simple croutons would be just as nice, in which case I would add a sprinkling of parsley as well.
Fennel-scented Red Pepper and Aubergine soup serves 2 as a main course
1 small aubergine, cubed 1 large shallot, minced 1 large garlic clove, minced 2 red peppers, quartered, seeds removed 1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped pinch of dried chili flakes a tiny pinch dried ground cumin 500ml. light chicken or vegetable stock 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted and ground 2 tablesoons olive oil salt, pepper
for the garnish: 2 tablespoons blanched almonds, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped 2 tablespoons parsley, coarsely chopped 4 tablespoons Parmigiano, coarsely grated pinch of dried chili flakes
creme fraiche (optional)
Preheat the grill. Put the peppers skin side up on a baking sheet. Roast them under the hot grill until the skins are blackened and blistered and the flesh of the peppers is soft.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pot. Add the aubergine, shallot and garlic, and a good pinch of salt. Cover the pot and sweat over low heat until the vegetables turn soft and mushy (don't let them brown), about 15 minutes.
When the peppers are ready, put them in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Leave to steam for 10 minutes (this will make it easier to slip off the skins).
Add the stock, rosemary, and chili flakes to the aubergine in the pot and bring to the boil. When the peppers have steamed, let them cool a bit, remove the black skins, and chop them coarsely. Add them to the pot. Simmer the soup for 15 minutes, then puree with an immersion blender. Add the fennel seeds and lemon juice and taste for salt and pepper.
Mix the chopped almonds with the parsley and cheese. To serve, swirl a tablespoon of creme fraiche into each serving of soup, then top with a heaping tablespoon of the almond mixture.